In this article, I will explain what a delayed steal is. I will start by defining what a stolen base is and then describing what constitutes a delayed steal. Next I will give some pointers on how to successfully pull one off. And finally, I will suggest some situations where a delayed steal could be utilized.
A stolen base occurs when a runner advances to another base by taking advantage of the pitcher and the defense. According to Major League Baseball Official Rule 10.07*:
The official scorer shall credit a stolen base to a runner whenever the runner advances one base unaided by a hit, a putout, an error, a force-out, a fielder’s choice, a passed ball, a wild pitch or a balk…
The majority of stolen bases happen when a runner starts as soon as the pitcher starts his motion towards home plate. Once the catcher receives the ball, he attempts to throw out the runner. In a delayed steal, the runner does not start until after the ball crosses the plate, relying on the defense not paying attention. A successful delayed steal will usually see the catcher start the motion of throwing the ball back to the pitcher, causing him to stop that motion and reload to throw to the base. On top of that, the fielder may have started to get back into position instead of covering the base. All of this gives the runner more time to reach the base safely.
One of the keys to a successful delayed steal is the secondary lead. This occurs either when the pitcher starts his motion towards home or when the ball crosses the plate, depending on when the runner can legally leave the base. This lead is a couple of shuffle steps towards the next base and should be used every pitch. The runner should start to run to the next base as soon as, but not before, the second shuffle is complete. At this point, the catcher and the middle infielders will be reacting as if there will be no stolen base. If there is a throw, it will most likely be an errant one as the catcher will have to double clutch and the infielder will be late in getting to the base.
Now that we know how to perform a delayed steal, let’s look at when to do it. The first thing to look at is how the infielders react after the pitch. If they always take a step or two toward the base that they would cover, it will be more difficult to steal that base because the fielder will be in position to take the throw. If, however, they just drift back into their pre-pitch position, they will be susceptible to a delayed steal. In this situation, even with a slow runner, the fielder will have a hard time getting to the base in time to field the throw.
Another great time to perform the delayed steal is when there are runners on first and third and less than 2 outs. Since the delayed steal has a tendency to confuse the fielders and cause errant throws, there is a good chance that the runner on third will score. Even if they don’t make a throw, there are now 2 runners in scoring position and the double play has been avoided.
So now you know what a delayed steal is and how to use it effectively. Go forth and surprise some defenses!